Coach Brad Bohannon will send his second Crimson Tide team to the diamond at Joe Sewell Stadium this weekend to open the season. Bama will host the Presbyterian Blue Hose in a three game series. Game one’s first pitch is at 3 p.m. on Friday, followed by a 3 p.m. game on Saturday and a 1 p.m. start on Sunday. The Tide finished 27-29 overall last season, and 8-22 in the SEC. Presbyterian was 15-39 and 8-19 in the Big South. The Blue Hose had 19 one run games in 2018.
The Tide will be a new look squad in year two of the Bohannon era, as there are 22 new players out of the total of 35. The whole starting infield from last season has moved on, either via graduation or the draft, or in some cases both. Junior third baseman Cobie Vance moved on to pro ball and is now with the Oakland A’s organization. Senior second baseman Chandler Avant was drafted into the NY Mets system. Shortstop Jett Manning, a junior, was taken by the San Francisco Giants and signed with the team. Senior first baseman/DH/OF Hunter Alexander graduated as did first baseman/DH Cody Henry. Junior John Trousdale returns after starting a total of 21 games last year at first base, third base, and DH.
The expected starters in the infield for opening day look to be 6’5” freshman first baseman Drew Williamson, and three junior college transfers. Morgan McCullough played with Oregon as a freshman (hitting over .270), before transferring to Chipola Junior College where he led the team to the championship, and was named MVP of the National Tournament. McCullough is a native of Seattle, WA and will man second base. Kolby Robinson comes to the Capstone from Cullman, and Wallace State Junior College and looks to be the shortstop to start the season. Brett Auerbach appears to be the man at third base. Auerbach came in as primarily a catcher, but also flashes a good glove at the hot corner, and his bat will be needed in the lineup. Auerbach hails from Mission Vejo, CA. A familiar face returns behind the plate, in sophomore Sam Praytor. Praytor was the every day catcher last season and was impressive, hitting .279 and throwing out over 50% of runners trying to steal. When Praytor needs relief Auerbach, or another JUCO product, Johnny Hawk will spell him. When Auerbach moves behind the plate Trousdale would most likely play third base.
The outfield has a mixture of returning players and new faces. Centerfielder Jeaux Breaux returns for his senior year looking to build on a decent junior campaign. Junior college transfer, but only a sophomore, Tyler Gentry appears to be in the lead to be opening day right fielder. Redshirt junior Gene Wood returns from two injury plagued seasons and looks to have worked himself into the opening day lineup in either left field or at DH. Justin King, one of three Canadians on the team, is a powerful left handed bat that is in the mix at left field and DH, as well as first base. Senior outfielder Keith Holcombe is the leading returning hitter for the Tide after averaging .290 last season. Holcombe will receive plenty of playing time during the season. Freshman T.J. Reeves and junior Walker McCleney are also in the mix for playing time.
The pitching staff will be much deeper than last season, but will once again be led by Friday night starter Sam Finnerty. Finnerty is a senior right hander and threw 87 innings last year to lead the team, finishing 4-4 with a 4.45 ERA. The Birmingham native is known for his control and only walked 14 batters last season. Freshman right hander Tyler Ras has been named the starter for game two on Saturday. Ras was the highest ranked member of the Tide’s highly regarded recruiting class, and stands 6’4” with a 90 mph plus fast ball. Sunday’s starter is listed as TBA, and could be any number of players. RS-Sophomore, left hander Garrett Rukes, was the primary Sunday starter last season and may well get the nod. RS-Junior Brock Love, junior Deacon Medders, freshman Connor Shamblin, junior Will Freeman, and junior Casey Cobb are also candidates. Bohannon has mentioned this off season that he and his staff, including pitching coach Jason Jackson, have had conversations with professional teams about possibly using a “opener” rather than a starter. An opener is typically a relief pitcher that may only pitch one inning or to a designated number of batters like five or so. The opener would be followed by a parade of pitchers, each throwing usually no more than one or two innings.
The opening series should be a nice tune up for the team, and a welcome break from beating up on each other during fall and spring scrimmages. Presbyterian returns their leading hitter from last season, infielder Jonathan White, who hit .358 in 2018. Colton Spring is on the preseason Watch List for Closer of the Year, after a 2-3 record with a 3.34 ERA last season. Spring pitched 30 innings and struck out 44 batters, but walked 27. Baseball is a funny game, but the Tide should be 3-0 by the end of the weekend.
GET TO THE JOE!
The weather report is improving, and the teams will do all they can to get the games in. This season should be a step forward in Bohannon’s rebuilding plan, and the team has much more depth, both in the field and on the mound. The pre-conference schedule is not overly difficult, but the SEC slate more than makes up for it. The Tide’s 10 conference opponents all made the NCAA Tournament last year, and in a year when Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri are all considered “down”, Bama does not play any of the three.
Roll Tide, Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It!
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Overall it is a pretty good set. Grey "Bama" tops would be the only other negative IMO pic.twitter.com/Mk9N0MeZ7U— BAMA Uniform Tracker (@BamaUniTracker) February 11, 2019